Online Radio Show -- Finding Your Oasis

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Saturday, August 31, 2013

Snowflakes or Snowfall: The Circumstance Dictates Our Reaction

On a cool day in May, several years ago, I observed a scattering of snowflakes falling.  They were far from memorable, being tiny and nondescript.  Yet, the emotions that they aroused were far from neutral.  I live in a cooler climate – Manitoba, Canada – but snow in May used to be a rare sight, and always unwelcome.  Perhaps in more mountainous regions of the western Rockies or other mountain ranges, such trivial moisture would have not even been noticed, much less been a source of irritation.  Yet, I had been anticipating spring, and, soon to follow, warm summers, since late March.  In Manitoba, summers are short and intense, so we need to savour every second of the event.  May snowfall was a direct punch in the teeth those longed-for days.
On a cold January day last year, I devoured the vision of large, fluffy snowflakes falling. Same precipitation, different response.  Why?  In January, we receive healthy doses of minus 35 weather.  Fluffy, floating snowflakes meant that the temperature was warmer than normal.
On another January day, I was enthralled by millions of diamonds dancing in the early morning sunlight.  Ice crystals.  The air gets so cold in January that moisture simply is squeezed out of the atmosphere, driving relative humidity to below thirty or forty percent.  The vision of countless sparkling, dancing pinpoints of light was mesmerizing.
On occasion, we also receive dumps of snow exceeding 40 centimetres (15-16 inches).  These blizzards are far from the intensity of blizzards in the Maritimes, or in the mountains.  Yet, depending upon the circumstance, they can be captivating and exciting.  However, a snowfall of three or four inches generally stimulates nothing but mild aggravation, and rarely a hypnotic appreciation of the event.
This is the way that most of us experience life.  We either are drawn to major events and items, or focused on the magic of minor miracles. Most of us opt to reach for  bigger, more elaborate, or just plain more.  We want bigger houses, more powerful cars, more exotic holidays, fancier clothes, rarer collections of possessions and more glamorous lifestyles.  We want the blizzard.  Yet, most often, we find the magic in the single snowflake, or the miniscule ice crystals.  When we have the modest amounts of snow, we are dissatisfied, disgruntled.  Instead of exploring the pleasures in less, we crave more.
Western society – indeed, all of society, it seems – is oriented toward the pursuit of the excess of happiness, when we should be seeking fulfillment and happiness.  Forty years ago, a simple black and white television and a car in the garage was adequate for us to feel successful.  Today, two or more of each is the standard, with sixty inch television screens being commonplace.  Are we happier because of this new normal?  No.  Study after study shows that , beyond a certain level of comfort, more doesn’t make us more happy.
Back to the single snowflake concept.  Watching that demonstration of nature’s beauty remains with me, and provides an inner peace when I recall it.  The memory of those ice crystals dancing on a cold day is as valuable as my memories of tropical vacations, but cost me nothing to savour.  We need to take the time to appreciate moments, rather than continuous events.
And why was I somewhat distraught by a snowfall in May, and captivated by one in January?  Expectation.  I expected certain things, in an orderly manner, and snow in May interrupted that sequence.  Was the snow as intriguing?  Of course.  But I chose my reaction, and, instead of revelling in the uniqueness of that event, I was repelled by it.  Had I, those many years ago, realized that it is the moment that is valuable, not my demand for an ordered existence, I could have turned what most saw as a negative experience into a truly positive one.

The point I wish to make is simple.  Expect experiences, not predictability.  Embrace unique moments, experiences, people, and so on.  By accepting that we are travelling through a lifetime of experiences, rather than shaping them to our wishes, we will not be disappointed.  Instead, we will be transported, into a world of wonder and enjoyment.

Tuesday, January 22, 2013

Why You Shouldn't Follow Recipes - For Cooking Or For Life

For the first time in more than four years, my wife and I enjoyed a loaf of homemade bread that was made precisely as the recipe directed. It is not that we have not had homemade bread in that long. Heck, we make bread two or three times a week! It is just that we have not followed a recipe in that long.

Janice often asks me if I could make this dish or that meal again, and I flatly tell her "No." Again, I am not being obstructionist, or contrary. Since I never follow recipes, and spend my meal preparation time "imagining" the spices and complements that I should add to an otherwise straightforward meal, I can never recall precisely what I put in to each construction. Following recipes is almost a stressful task for me.

We - all of us - live our lives within defined boundaries, as is expected of us. There are rules, social niceties, protocols and not-so-nuanced recommendations as to how we should live. Break them.

Rules, regulations and laws are essential to good, peaceful society. But rules should be nothing more than common sense. We don't steal, we don't commit murder, we respect each other. We do not need the Bible's ten commandments, the Qu'ran, the Torah or any holy books to let us know that we need to respect the rights of others, the physical wellbeing of others and the emotional security of others. Beyond that, we ought to demand the freedom to be ourselves, and to push our own boundaries.

There are vociferous, often venomous debates ongoing at all times, regarding what we perceive as freedoms. We have the right to carry loaded guns anywhere we want. But what does that do to the emotional wellbeing of those around us? Everyone has the right to religious freedom, apparently only so long as it does not disagree with our chosen religion. We need to be free of government intervention, except when we need a new road built, snow cleared, hurricane relief or protection from criminals. People have the right to affordable education and health care, but only defined by our standards, and not theirs. Who is right in these great debates? No one. And everyone.

We need to be able to choose our path, without intervention or coercion, so long as we do not infringe upon other's abilities to choose.

And this returns me to my cooking recipes, or lack thereof.

Fifty years ago, unless I was a chef, I would have been ostracized for admitting that I like cooking. I also like the symphony and classical music. Forty years ago, I would have been beaten severely for admitting that, since it must have meant that I was gay. I think that I have a duty to help those in need when I can, and that government (me and you), too, has a responsibility to care for those who cannot take care of themselves. Thirty years ago, during the emergence of the yuppie era, I would have been shouted down for being a radical liberal or socialist. I live a very minimal lifestyle, as it is defined by physical possessions. Twenty years ago, my sanity would have been questioned, for eschewing the great American dream. A while ago, I gave up my addiction to cable television and technological gadgets, except for essentials (for me) like a computer. Just over a decade ago, I would have been a heretic, threatening to destroy the foundations of the modern world. Yet, I think that everyone should be allowed to choose to cook, enjoy their own musical preferences, give or not give to others, own huge gas-guzzling vehicles, or text till their fingers bleed. So long as it does not harm others. Live your life the best way you know, not the best way that others know for you!

Cook your life using your own ingredients, and tantalize your own emotional, physical and emotional taste buds.

Since I learned that what others think does not matter, or, at worst, is a reflection of their own biases, life has been a constant meal made with no recipe. I built and moved to a yurt; a decision jointly embraced by my spouse and myself. I have started a housing project for low income earners, and found a dozen like-minded people to work with me. We recently got lost in Ocho Rios, being led into the bowels of the old town by a local, not knowing if we would be able to find our way out safely. I recently fell off a roof, because I wasn't taking proper safety precautions, and learned that I am still, at sixty-one, young enough to bounce! At Christmas, I received my customary, and treasured gifts from my grandchildren: rocks. It is an old tradition that I started with my kids, hearkening back to Charlie Brown's Hallowe'en special and the practice of giving coal or potatoes to bad children in England. This month, all of my family will have our annual barbeque, in February, in Manitoba, Canada, where the normal temperature is minus 25-30 for that period. It is our way of thumbing our noses at winter and tweaking the New Year by telling it that we will not conform. We have been doing this since 1988. We don't care what others think. We are embracing life.

The reason I don't use recipes is because my tastes are not the same as yours, and yours are not the same as your neighbours, and so on. Recipes are guidelines. They are little building blocks. Just because you have square building blocks does not mean that you can not build a round house with them! Start your innovative life by recognizing that there are good recipes for good reasons: because a lot of people like them. Then add or subtract from your recipe for life the things that you do not like and the things that you love.

And, occasionally, go back and conform to a proven set of rules, a conventional recipe. Being normal occasionally can be an enlightening experience, too. Do not fear normal. Just don't force yourself to adhere to it, if you want to personalize and get the most out of your life.

Now, can I interest you in my favourite recipe?